Saturday night, Virginia Tech and Miami will play in the most important matchup between these two teams in a long time. Miami can clinch the ACC Coastal title with a win and a Virginia loss, while the Hokies can take control of the division with a victory. The loser of this game will also likely fall out of playoff contention.
This is a game that Virginia Tech can't afford to lose. If they do, all playoff and ACC Championship hopes will be gone while a win leaves them in control of their own destiny with no margin for error. With that said, here are our keys to the game.
Protect the Football
Miami is one of the best in the nation at forcing turnovers. Miami has balanced that with a low turnover rate on offense that has made a difference time and time again this season. With a +10 turnover margin, any turnover in this game will likely have a big impact on the outcome.
The Hokies have significantly improved at protecting the football with only 6 turnovers this season (same as Miami). While the interception rate has remained low, Virginia Tech has decreased their number of fumbles significantly with only two lost. The Hokies' ball security has been a point of emphasis for Justin Fuente this season, and it's been a big reason why VT is protecting the ball better.
“I think the biggest thing is, statistically speaking, it’s still one of the biggest determining factors of winning or losing games. Last year, for us here was kind of an anomaly in terms of not taking care of the ball and still winning games. If you look at the games we won versus the games we loss, there was a huge discrepancy. We have always taught the techniques, we’ve always done the drill work," Fuente said.
"I think maybe just during team emphasis, we’ve done a better job of emphasizing it, and they seem to understand it more, and maybe there’s a realization of how important it is. Maybe there’s some pride in taking care of the ball that maybe was a little bit lacking. I’m not positive, I would have to have the players answer that one. The biggest thing is to me, it’s one of the most important statistics and obviously this week, we’re playing a team if, I’m not mistaken, leads the ACC in turnover margin, and has done a fantastic job of taking the ball away and taking care of the football on the offensive side.”
However, the Hokies will need to protect the football well once again against Miami's opportunistic defense. While the turnover chain may not be popular outside of Miami, it definitely has helped build a culture that values forcing turnovers.
Miami's defense hasn't been great, but they have been opportunistic and that can allow you to steal some games that you shouldn't. If the Hokies are going to beat Miami, they can't let the Hurricanes be the opportunistic defense that they've been all season and must protect the football whether that be not giving up a fumble or Josh Jackson making smart decisions.
Establish the Running Game
Miami knows that the Hokies are much more effective throwing the football than they are running it. You can expect that Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will try to force the Hokies to run the ball and trust his defensive line to contain the running game. Diaz will likely look to put more effort in coverage early and force the Hokies to run the ball.
With that likely to be the case, the Hokies need to establish a strong running game early.
With Steven Peoples questionable, it's likely that the Hokies will heavily rely on Travon McMillian and Deshawn McClease. McClease and McMillian have both had some strong performances, but the Hokies will be looking for some consistency from them and at least one of them step up.
Justin Fuente won't be afraid to stick with one of these two RBs if only one of them gets hot as he did with McMillian against Boston College and McClease against Duke. McClease has given the Hokies a spark at times, which may lead VT to wait to bring McClease in until late in the first quarter if McMillian has a good start.
However the Hokies use their tailbacks, it will critical for them to get their rushing game going, especially against a Miami defense that has 11 interceptions this season. Josh Jackson has proven he can make smart decisions consistently, but Miami will likely throw extra guys in coverage if VT can't establish their running game.
It will be critical for the Hokies to have an effective running game. If someone can step up early and be the hot RB, you can expect that guy to be the lead runner the rest of the night. If not, it will make life more difficult for the Hokies' passing game.
Force Malik Rosier to Beat You
Malik Rosier has played well for a new quarterback, but he's also completing only 56.7% of his passes and faces a tough VT pass defense. Rosier has also been held to a completion rate of under 50% against Florida State and North Carolina. Though Rosier has been significantly better at home, the Hokies are the best pass defense he's faced at home all season, and it isn't close.
Travis Homer has shown flashes since replacing Mark Walton headlined by 170 yards in their thrilling victory over Georgia Tech. Homer has the skills to explode for a big game. In this game, it will be critical for a VT defense that lacks a weakness to contain Homer and force Miami to try to attack a pass defense that leads the nation in opposing completion percentage.
The good news is that Virginia Tech has done a fantastic job of shutting down opposing running backs with Duke's Shaun Wilson being the latest RB held under four yards per carry. Homer has also been inconsistent with an average of under 3 yards per carry against a banged up UNC defense last week. VT has the defense to shut down Miami's rush defense and force Rosier to throw the football.
If they put Rosier in third and long situations, VT's defense could have a dominant night, especially with how they have consistently held opposing quarterbacks significantly below their average completion percentage. Miami has some talented receivers including speedster Braxton Berrios and Ahmmon Richards, who has missed three games due to injury.
Virginia Tech has one of college football's elite defenses that has done an excellent job of shutting down the opposing passing game. In this game, it will be critical for VT to force Rosier and Miami's passing game to beat them, and not let Travis Homer get going on the ground.
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